““I have learned never to ridicule any man’s opinion, however strange it may seem.”” – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)

Malcolm Gladwell, a clever guy whose essays I often come across in the New Yorker, has just published a book called The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. The book, like his essays, is full of interesting points and perspectives. Some of them relate to our conversations about success.

The title itself comes from a popular high-school experiment. You take a glass of water, filled to the brim. Then you carefully add a single drop of water and then another. Because of surface tension, the water level actually rises above the rim. But at some point, a single drop of water offsets the equilibrium and all the excess water spills over the sides of the glass.

Malcolm Gladwell believes human society is like that. His theory is that the big trends in business and society are “tipped off” by a single individual or a single act. Ideas, Gladwell believes, follow the same patterns that characterize infectious diseases. They incubate for years. But then, when conditions are right, they suddenly erupt. “As human beings we have a hard time with this kind of progression, because the end result – the effect – seems out of proportion to the cause,” he writes in the introduction to The Tipping Point.

This Isn’t Just A Clever Idea. It Can Make A Big Difference In Your Career.

I agree with his observation. From what I’ve seen, it’s actually a very common phenomenon in business.

When I get an idea for a client, I often have to bring it up and sell it to him dozens of times over weeks or months before he buys into it. This is a frustrating process. I used to stew about I: “Can’t this person see I am practically handing him profits on a silver platter?”

Now, however, I recognize that for an idea to sprout, it needs all the right conditions – the right soil composition, water, and sunlight, if you will. Getting a good idea to flower in the mind of a client requires that he be open to suggestion, that the idea be presented at the right time, and that it be expressed in a way that makes sense and seems compelling.

Now, when a good idea is ignored or rejected, I don’t take it personally. I recognize that some of the conditions (over which I have no control) are not right. The next time I bring up the same idea, I try to express it in different terms, and I just keep at it until the lights go on.

Whose Idea Is It Anyway?

Of course, when the lights go on, the client usually thinks it’s HIS idea. And, in a way, it is. All my previous attempts, although rejected, left impressions like combustible deposits in his subconscious mind. When my last attempt “tipped” his thinking, all those combustible deposits flared at once. To him, it felt like his own big, bright idea.

I have been on the other side of the tipping game, too. I’ve been the glass of water. I know because I’ve had what I thought were brilliant ideas only to have a colleague tell me, “That’s what I’ve been trying to say to you!”

So What’s The Point?

If you understand that tipping is a natural human phenomenon, you’ll have a big advantage, both personally and in business. First, you won’t feel insulted when your good ideas are rejected. Second, you won’t give up on them. You’ll keep plugging away, at different times and in different ways. This will give you much more success. Third, you will recognize that sometimes your ideas are not your ideas at all – and you will be able to thank the people who “tipped” you.